Coming back after a soccer injury can be physically and psychologically challenging for young players. As coaches, we must support them while they’re unable to play, be careful not to rush them back, and provide encouragement when it’s time for them to return. In this Q&A, we discuss some effective methods of injury prevention, ways to keep players involved while they’re going through recovery, and how to safely reintegrate them after a soccer injury.

In This Article

What Is the First Step to Recovering From Injury in Soccer?

“First, seek medical advice, whether that’s from a doctor or a physiotherapist,” advises PDP Coaching Advisor Dan Cooke. “Then be an assistant to them — in the sense of ensuring that the player is following their guidance. That’s how I’d see my role as the coach.”

“We’ve also got to consider the nature of the injury and the context around it,” adds Dave Wright, Co-Founder at PDP. “There are different types of injury — for instance, contact and non-contact injuries — and this has an impact. If it’s a contact injury, for example, the player might be experiencing some slight psychological trauma; there may have been a long road of rehab and recovery, so regaining the confidence to get on the ball or go into a tackle again could be challenging. The nature of the injury can often dictate how a player reintegrates.”

It’s also important to remember that different individuals will respond differently to injuries: “Some kids might be hesitant to come back, while others could be over-excited and want to return too early,” explains Cooke. “There are nuances to dealing with injury and reintegrating players.”

How Can I Keep Injured Players Involved?

There are many ways we can keep players involved and help them reintegrate slowly while returning to soccer from injury. “Most importantly, we should strive to understand the individual’s situation and respect their voice,” says Cooke. “That means lots of conversation, and keeping them around even if they’re unable to train.

“I’ve had players come and coach with me. I might ask them to lay out part of the session or invite them to suggest improvements to certain bits. I think it’s really important for the player from a social perspective, so that they remain part of the team and still feel included.

“It also provides opportunities for me to have conversations with them, enabling me to understand their struggles with injury and how they’re feeling — whether they’re hesitant to return or trying to force things and come back too soon. And then I can make a judgment about the best way to support them in returning to play.”

We can also tailor training to help individuals transition from ‘assistant coach’ back to player, providing a middle ground as they start playing football again: “Having them start as a server, or putting them in a different-colored bib to signify that they can’t be tackled, are two ways to ease their return,” says Wright. “We can create certain conditions to help them reintegrate slowly and get their confidence back.”

Can I Help Players Avoid Getting Injured?

“When it comes to preventing soccer injuries, I think tracking key information can be really important,” says Wright. “It can be as simple as checking in every day to see how players are feeling, whether they’re carrying a slight injury, or if they’re fatigued.”

As coaches, we can monitor and record things like training load and Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) in order to track the physical impact our sessions have on our players. We can then use this data to inform our approach to injury prevention. By engaging players in this process, we can help them become better at realizing when they’re fatigued, or when they’re experiencing injuries that could be aggravated if not addressed, enabling them to take greater ownership over their own physical wellbeing. 

“It’s largely about empowering the young person,” explains Dr. Craig Harrison, Founder of the Athlete Development Project. “The more we can help young players to describe their feelings and experiences, the more powerful this tool is. If players develop an intuition about their own bodies, when they feel something that’s not normal, they’re more empowered to do something about it.”

Finally, we should also ensure that players warm up sufficiently before sessions, especially as they get older and experience more intense phases of growth and maturation, and encourage them to develop stretch and stability routines to minimize their chances of injury.

Should I Adapt My Coaching to Account For Injuries?

As coaches, we should also be aware of our own egos when it comes to bringing players back from injury. “We might have players who are influential on games, whose presence determines whether we win on the weekend,” explains Cooke. “And so, when injuries occur, our emotional instinct might be to get them back on the grass as quickly as possible. But it’s really important that we’re self-aware, put our ego aside, and place the player’s health at the center of the situation.”

“In the longer-term, replacing an injured player might be better for them. And that should be our priority.”

How Can I Track a Player’s Recovery?

“Another thing to remember is the parents,” says Wright. “They obviously know their child, and they’re going to know the seriousness of the injury. So having those conversations around what the doctor or physio has said, and also where they think the child is at, is really important. We should also be conscious that some parents will be more pushy and others might be more protective — so knowing the parents and having relationships with them is key.”

“This is one of many examples of the importance of building relationships,” adds Cooke. “If you know your players well and you’ve invested time with the families, that really gives you an advantage when managing injuries. By understanding the circumstances of the child, you should hopefully know how best to support them throughout their recovery.”

Would you like to learn more about adapting your training to your player’s needs?

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